SMART train, truck collide in Santa Rosa; motorist injured

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A northbound SMART train collided at high speed with a furniture delivery truck crossing the tracks Thursday afternoon south of Santa Rosa, obliterating the truck, jolting train passengers out of their seats and jamming up commuters, as service on the line was brought to a halt for several hours.

The crash happened just after 3 p.m. at the Todd Road intersection after the Santa Rosa truck driver apparently drove right through the activated crossarms into the path of the train, according to the California Highway Patrol.

Driver Detlev Ihlenfeld, 68, was taken to Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital with injuries that weren’t life-threatening, CHP Officer Jon Sloat said.

“It rang his bell a little bit, but he wasn’t too bad off,” Sloat said. “He’s very lucky.”

None of the 47 train passengers and three crew members were injured, Sloat said.

It’s the first time a SMART train has collided with a vehicle on the tracks. In October, a Santa Rosa bicyclist who was on his cellphone and did not notice the lowered gates was hit by a SMART train while riding his bike across the tracks on West Steele Lane. Three months later, a woman was struck and killed by a SMART train after authorities said she intentionally crossed into its path near Hearn Avenue.

Ihlenfeld appears to own an antique furniture delivery business on Stony Point Road, Sloat said.

Sloat said he did not have the name of the train engineer, referring questions to SMART.

The CHP said the train was traveling at least 50 mph before the collision. SMART officials declined to confirm the speed of the train at impact or disclose the name of the engineer.

Most passengers were held on the train for about two hours, until it headed south to the nearest station in Rohnert Park, where they were let off after 5:30 p.m.

Northbound trains, which had been halted, resumed their routes about that time, according to a SMART post on Twitter. SMART spokeswoman Jeanne Belding said buses were used to ferry passengers between the stations in Rohnert Park and Santa Rosa, around the crash site.

Victor Trujillo, 28, of Novato, got on the train in San Rafael with plans to get off in Santa Rosa to run some errands. As the train entered the Todd Road intersection, he felt a significant impact.

“It lifted me up a little bit off my seat,” Trujillo said from the train about an hour after the crash. “I think we’re all just in shock.”

The truck driver was westbound on Todd Road when he plowed through the crossing arms, which were down and flashing, according to the CHP.

“We don’t know why yet,” Sloat said of the driver’s alleged actions.

The SMART train struck the rear section of the truck, which spun and flipped over, spilling debris and wood across the tracks and into a nearby parking lot.

The truck slammed into a power pole and sheered it in half. The three-car train stopped about 200 to 300 yards down the tracks, with its windshield shattered, nose significantly damaged, and debris from the truck still stuck in front of the lead car.

“This is one of those ones where it’s like, how is this not a fatality?” Sloat said. “If (the driver) had been a couple seconds slower, it would have been him all over the front.”

Colin Dowling, 33, of Rohnert Park, first heard of the accident when his wife, passenger Kristel Villegas, 33, texted him at 3:23 p.m. “It felt like we went off the track,” she wrote. The train did not derail.

She told him the windshield of the train was shattered and described the collision as a “strong hit.”

Several passengers complained they weren’t given any information about plans to disembark. As of 5:15, the train was still sitting on the track north of Todd Road.

SMART workers at one point attached ladders to the train, allowing people to disembark onto the gravel beside the tracks. A few did.

But at some point the decision was made not to allow passengers to get off at that location, likely out of concern for them walking through debris and an accident scene under investigation.

“They were letting some people off and then not others,” said Samson Fiacco, who was returning home to Sebastopol from school in Terra Linda. “I was kind of angry because I missed an appointment.”

Sloat said the damaged car would be left on the track during the investigation. Around 5:30 p.m., the two remaining cars holding passengers headed south to Rohnert Park.

Some passengers praised SMART crew members for remaining calm, handing out water and giving out what information they had.

“They kept the bar open, which was good,” said Aaron Tubbs, who had a beer while waiting to return to the Rohnert Park station.

Once there, however, the Larkfield resident said it was unclear what the white buses were for and how they would operate. So he called his wife, who picked him up.

Justin Sullivan, 15, of Petaluma, was sitting near the front of the train when the impact occurred.

“I just felt a jolt, and then saw all this dust,” Sullivan said. “At first it was kind of overwhelming.”

Westbound Todd Road was closed by crash and ensuing investigation.

Belding said she didn’t know whether the train had blared its horn as it entered or approached the intersection.

The Todd Road intersection, like all the crossings through Santa Rosa, is in a “quiet zone,” which prohibits sounding the train horn unless there’s a safety concern, such as a vehicle on the track.

Even though the crash site is outside city limits, the accident could renew a long-standing dispute between SMART and Santa Rosa over liability for such incidents at crossings. SMART has argued the city should indemnify the rail line and agree to defend it against lawsuits that arise from accidents, while the city has resisted the move.

Staff Writer Martin Espinoza contributed to the story. You can reach Staff Writer Kevin McCallum at 707-521-5207 or kevin.mccallum@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @srcitybeat. You can reach Staff Writer Susan Minichiello at 707-521-5216 or susan.minichiello@pressdemocrat.com.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correct the spelling of the driver’s name.

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